Benjamin Franklin Papers

The American Commissioners to John Philip Merckle, 9 October 1777

The American Commissioners to John Philip Merckle

Copy: Connecticut Historical Society

Paris Octo 9th. 1777


We have recd. several letters from you written in a menacing Stile, as if we had failed in the fulfilment of our engagements with you; 4 you must be sensible we never were privy to any Contract with you nor accountable for any thing you had contracted for. But the sole motive of our paying the Ballance due Messrs. Delaps was as well to extricate you, as to free Capt. Cleveland and his Ship from the prodigious expence he had been at for several Months, and that our writing to Mr. Grand was in order to take the articles you had engaged for, on our own Account directly, as your remittances had failed; at the same time as we must in Consequence of taking them make ourselves accountable, we referr’d the articles to Mr. Grand, for his examination and if he approved of them he was to receive and pay for them on our Account. This is simply the state of this affair. Wherein have we failed on our part? And what right have you to complain in the indecent Stile you have of us? The Articles you had engaged are on examination found liable to many objections, which justly discharge us from troubling ourselves any further on this Subject. At the same time we have directed Mr. Sim. Deane who goes for Amsterdam tomorrow Via Dunkirque to examine them personally and to receive or reject them as he shall find them on examination and enquiry. If he should reject them, as he certainly must if he find them improper or not well purchased, You can have no ground of complaint against us on Any Account, but if the Committee with whom you contracted, engaged for such kind of Articles as you have procured, your affair is with them and not with us.5 We do not think it becoming us to make any observation on the Stile in which you have treated us in your Letters on this Subject, Strict Justice to every one and a Punctual performance of our engagements are the only objects worthy of our Attention. We are &c.


Mr Merkle

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4Merckle had, nevertheless, been serving the commissioners’ cause in his own way. He was proclaiming that America was lost to the British, an Amsterdam merchant told a Parisian friend in August, and that trade with it offered profits of 5–600%; what, the merchant inquired, did BF and Deane think of the man? Lüthy, Banque protestante, II, 604. What they thought is clear from this letter; see also above, XXIV, 108–9. What Merckle thought of them is implied here, but his letters have apparently been lost, and with them his side of the dispute.

5Merckle was under contract with the secret committee to buy arms in the Netherlands: above, XXIV, 108–9. When the committee’s remittances did not come through, the commissioners, as they say here, took responsibility for the purchases if Grand approved them. The chevalier Grand provided his brother with samples, and requested payment to Merckle. The samples were found to be old and ill-made muskets, priced as high as the best, but BF and Deane, despite Arthur Lee’s protests, felt obligated to take them. Lee Jour., p. 140–1. The commissioners had apparently made no final decision by the time Simeon Deane’s trip to the Netherlands permitted inspection of the entire consignment. On Oct. 9 Silas Deane wrote to the chevalier Grand to introduce his brother and to entrust the two with settling the business: Deane Papers, II, 179. Simeon had arrived in France in early September (above, XXIV, 503 and will reappear frequently during the months of his stay in Europe. He later became an alcoholic and eventually committed suicide: Kalman Goldstein, “Silas Deane: Preparation for Rascality,” The Historian, XLIII (1980–81), 80 n, 96.

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